Chirashi sushi

Chirashi sushiHinamatsuri, or Girls’ Festival, is in Japan something of a spring festival as well as a celebration of girls. Though I know my friends in Canada are still shivering and shovelling, spring is starting to show its face here in England. I saw my first open daffodil today as well as a bunch of little white blossoms, so I’ve been getting into the mood for some springy food.

Chirashi sushi (translates as “scattered sushi;” it’s pronounced chirashi zushi in Japanese) is basically just a layer of vinegared rice with toppings. The toppings generally include sashimi, though it’s certainly possible to make an all-cooked version. Chirashi sushi is one of the traditional foods of Hinamatsuri. These are others too, but clam soup is out in my family because my husband is allergic to shellfish, and I didn’t think it was realistic to obtain the ingredients for sakura mochi (pounded rice cakes coloured pink and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves). Chirashi sushi, however, I could do, and easily.

Chirashi sushi is, in my mind, one of the world’s most perfect dishes. It’s super easy, healthy and incredibly delicious. It’s impressive enough to be used for entertaining or just to make a family dinner feel like a special occasion. The possibilities are endless in terms of exactly what ingredients you use and how. It’s virtually impossible to screw up.

It’s also easy to make gluten-free and low-FODMAP. You could even have it in a restaurant if you can bring your own gluten-free soy sauce or if the restaurant can provide you some. You will also have to avoid ingredients that might contain soy sauce, such as eel and Japanese omelette, or ingredients that might contain wheat, such as artificial crab sticks. However, most ingredients should be fine. And hey – why order it when you can make it this easily?

Chirashi sushiChirashi sushi

Serves about four

For the rice

  • 2 cups short-grained rice*
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Put the rice and water in a pot. Many people will tell you you need to rinse and soak the rice. Maybe I’m lazy but I find this unnecessary if you’re using a decent-quality rice. I think it’s an artifact of a time when you were likely to find stones and mouse droppings in rice. Bring the water to a boil. As soon as it reaches a roiling boil, turn it right down as low as the stove will go. Cook for another 20 minutes or so until water has been absorbed and rice is tender. Alternatively, use a rice cooker and follow the instructions.
  2. Heat 1/2 cup of the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together until the sugar and salt dissolve. You can use a small saucepan or a bowl in the microwave.
  3. Once your rice is cooked, it’s best if you turn it into a big bowl. Traditionally people use a wide wooden bowl in Japan. A little at a time, white fanning the hot rice, pour the seasoned rice vinegar into the rice white gently stirring the rice. You may not need to add all the vinegar mixture – do it to taste.
  4. Press the rice into your serving plates/bowls. It’s best to use fairly shallow bowls with flat bottoms, so you can put a lot of toppings on a wide surface area. You can do a mass chirashi in one big bowl or individual servings. Don’t press too hard – you want a flat surface but it doesn’t need to be compacted.
  5. Wait until the rice is at or close to room temperature before arranging your toppings (see below). This is particularly important if you’re using sashimi, but no matter what, chirashi isn’t a hot dish. It’s served at room temperature.
  6. Serve with small bowls/dishes of soy sauce and wasabi.

*Some people will say you need to use Japanese rice. I tend to use Calrose rice, which is  Japanese-style rice grown in California. Not only is it a lot easier to get in both England and Canada, I find no difference in taste. If you’re in a pinch you could even use Italian arborio rice.

Possible toppings

  • Raw and/or cooked fish – I used some sashimi-grade flounder (hirame) I’d been saving in the freezer, as well as some smoked salmon.
  • Shrimp and/or shellfish (not in our family due to my husband’s allergy)
  • Paper-thin, shredded omelette**
  • Fish roe – we used masago (cappelin) roe, though I put it on at the last minute, after I took the pictures. My favourite is salmon roe but I couldn’t get any.
  • Thinly sliced lotus root cooked with sugar and vinegar (couldn’t get any of that either)
  • As garnishes: snow peas, thinly sliced cucumber, sometimes thin slices of lemon, nori or other seaweed, sliced carrot especially if cut into “flowers”
  • Denbu – White fish cooked with a little sugar and red food colouring, then finely flaked so you end up with pink fish floss – this is especially common for Hinamatsuri chirashi sushi, since the colorus of the festival are pink, white and green. I thought about making this but decided against it on the grounds that I don’t really like it all that much.
  • Other food according to the chef’s creativity – I decided to use lightly steamed samphire since I have discovered a new love for it since coming to Britain. Not a traditional ingredient but quite harmonious, I thought, since it’s not unlike seaweed.
  • Gari – pickled ginger. Can be sliced thinly and sprinkled across the whole surface or simply used as a garnish.

**To make a paper-thin omelette, beat one egg in a bowl. Optionally, you may want to add a little sugar and/or salt at this stage. I prefer to keep it plain. Heat a large non-stick frying pan on medium heat. When it’s quite hot, pour the beaten egg into the pan and immediately swirl it around so the egg gets spread out really thinly, like a crepe. Once it’s firm, flip it over and brown the other side briefly. Slice it thinly into julienne-like strips to use as a chirashi topping. If you want to use more than one egg, as would probably be a good idea if you’re serving four, repeat with the second egg. Don’t try to beat two eggs together as you won’t be able to make the resulting omelette thin enough.

Chirashi sushi

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